Save money and the planet: 4 reasons you should ditch fast fashion

Fill your wardrobe with one-off pieces made by ethical designers

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An April report by Swiss bank UBS predicts that fast-fashion companies may take a hit of between 10 per cent and 30 per cent in the next five to 10 years as customers become more eco-aware.

That's a sizeable profit margin to lose in a relatively short time, and yet it could not come soon enough.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you must have an idea about the detrimental environmental and human impact of the fashion industry. Pollution, water waste, overflowing landfills and abused minorities are some of the fallouts when you choose to put a fast-fashion outfit on your back.

Workers sew plaid shirts on the production line of the Fashion Enterprise garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. Bangladesh authorities said they were accelerating rescue efforts at the factory complex that collapsed last week as hopes fade for more survivors after the nation’s biggest industrial disaster. Bangladesh’s labor law requires safety measures such as fire extinguishers and easily accessible exits at factories. Jeff Holt/Bloomberg
Workers sew plaid shirts on the production line of the Fashion Enterprise garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bloomberg

The solution? Why, slow fashion, of course.

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is often synonymous with the high street, and signifies the production methods of brands that process millions of garments per day, rely heavily on fabrics such as cotton, and have their factories in third-world countries where the minimum wage for workers is a pittance.

Fast fact: It takes 2,700 litres of water to produce enough cotton to create a single T-shirt, and the crop uses 24 per cent of the world’s pesticides.

The quality of the materials and stitching is often poor, and the pricing low, so such garments are also discarded more often.

Ethical label Stella McCartney shot its 2017 campaign against a landfill backdrop
Ethical label Stella McCartney shot its 2017 campaign against a landfill backdrop

What is slow fashion?

The end game for slow-fashion companies is to protect the environment and the artisan as much as possible. Some do this by only working with recycled or upcycled materials, others pay craftspeople higher-than-average wages, while a new crop of designers is turning to tech to create their own materials out of mushrooms and more.

Fun fact: You can now buy ethical shoes made out of sugarcane, appleskin and castor oil.

Advantages of slow fashion

It's good for your pocket: The low quality of fast-fashion garments means they wear out easily and quickly, leading you to discard them in the blink of an eye.

Slow fashion, on the other hand, is built on the premise of repeating the clothes you buy. So, while you may pay more for a recycled cotton T-shirt or naturally dyed pair of jeans, in the long run you’ll need to buy fewer clothes and thus save more money.

As for being on trend or being seen in a “new outfit every time”, well, that’s where your ace styling and accessorising skills can come in handy.

It's good for your image: A handmade or embroidered outfit is, by definition, the opposite of mass-produced and machine-spewed. Consequently, most slow-fashion garments are made in smaller batches, and can also be one-off pieces.

The result? You are the proud owner of outfits that hang only in your wardrobe.

It's good for design: Many slow-fashion companies shine a spotlight on artisans and the age-old techniques they bring to the table. Human-made is another facet of this movement, be it textile weaving or hand embroidery.

Madinat Zayed, January 21, 2013 --  Hamda Almazrouei, 46, uses a floor loom to weave a table runner  at her mother's home in Madinat Zayed, January 21, 2013. (Photo by: Sarah Dea/The National)
Hand-weaving goes back to Neolithic times. Photo: Sarah Dea / The National

Proponents of slow fashion, then, are helping to keep the crafts alive.

It's good for the environment: The amount of water that goes into processing cotton aside, the fashion industry is also responsible for air pollution (it accounts for 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is higher than international flights and maritime shipping combined) and ocean waste (from plastic fluff to wastewater drainage).

It is not an exaggeration to say, then, that slow fashion can go a long way towards saving the planet.

Slow-fashion companies 

The directory of ethical labels, we are glad to report, is too long to list here, so the availability – or lack thereof – of slow-fashion brands to browse and buy is no longer an excuse.

Here are four to try – and these are but regional.

Hazem Haddad, founder HH, an ethical footwear brand from Beirut
Hazem Haddad, founder HH, an ethical footwear brand from Beirut

Save a tree with a Nafsi tee: Partnering with One Tree Planted, a non-profit environmental tree-planting charity that helps reforest areas around the world, Dubai clothing label Nafsi has vowed to plant trees in vulnerable communities. Since it was founded in January 2020, the company utilises mainly upcycled deadstock, working with organisations such as EcoEquitable in Canada that helps provide vulnerable women with work, transforming unwanted stock into new, recycled goods. Nafsi also works with Thrift for Good, the second-hand social enterprise that donates 100 per cent of its proceeds to Gulf for Good.

Deadstock leather shoes at HH – The Brand: The Lebanese brand purchases its leather from stock shops around Beirut, with the intention of investing in vegan leather for future collections. Each pair of handcrafted sandals is painstakingly made-to-order on site, to reduce the brand's carbon footprint and hence available in limited quantities per season.

Lab-grown diamonds by Fyne Jewellery: Created in a laboratory rather than mined from the earth, lab-grown diamonds are physically, chemically and optically identical with the natural version. They are also the stones of choice for Dubai jewellery designer Aya Ahmad's Fyne brand.

Hand-woven bags by Okhtein: The brainchild of sisters Aya and Mounaz Abdelraouf, this Egyptian label has tied up with Egyptian NGOs to promote local skills and provide support to women facing financial hardships. Using embroidery and weaving as a way to support local crafts, Okhtein is helping bring these skills to a wider audience, including Beyonce.

If you’re still not sold on the idea of slow fashion, here’s a last tip before you head to your rock: once you’ve discarded a piece of clothing, recycle it and put it back into the system so it can serve as raw materials, buttons and all, to produce the next thing.